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In the previous article we spent considerable time looking at the use and meaning of the word “soul” in both the Old and New Testaments. We now turn our attention to the words “spirit”, “mind”, and “heart” in both testaments. Continue reading . . . 

In the previous article we spent considerable time looking at the use and meaning of the word “soul” in both the Old and New Testaments. We now turn our attention to the words “spirit”, “mind”, and “heart” in both testaments.


“Spirit” in the Old Testament

The Greek word pneuma is the standard translation in the LXX for the Hebrew ruach. It is used more than 350x, 39 of which are in Isaiah, 36 in Ezekiel, and 31 times in the Psalms. In roughly one third of the instances where ruach is found it refers to the wind. The term can also be used for one’s breath, both of humans and animals.

David prays that God would renew a “right” or “steadfast” “spirit” in him (Ps. 51:10). The “spirit” can also be unfaithful to God (Ps. 78:8; i.e., it can be the source of sin). In the latter text, “spirit” is in synonymous parallelism with “heart”. The “spirit” can experience being brokenhearted or “crushed” (Ps. 34:18; Ps. 51:17). God describes his people as giving themselves to a “spirit of whoredom” (Hos. 4:12) and a “spirit” that goes “astray” (Isa. 29:24).

There are numerous texts where “spirit” and “heart” are used interchangeably: Deut. 2:30; Josh. 2:11; Ps. 34:18; 51:10; 143:4; Isa. 65:14; Ezek. 18:31; and Dan. 5:20, just to mention a few. In about 100 texts the word “spirit” (pneuma / ruach) refers directly to the Spirit of God

“Spirit” in the New Testament

The noun pneuma occurs some 380x in the NT, 145 of which are in Paul (34x in Romans; 40x in 1 Corinthians), 36x in Luke’s gospel, and 70x in Acts. In 250 texts pneuma refers to the Holy Spirit.

In some 40 passages pneuma refers to the human spirit or that dimension of human personality that “belongs to, or interacts with, the spiritual realm” (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, Vol. 3:807). It is by means of our “spirit” that we encounter God (cf. Rom. 8:16; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; 2 Tim. 4:22; Philemon 25; Heb. 4:12; Jas. 4:5) and are open and responsive to him (Matt. 5:3; Luke 1:47; Rom. 1:9; 1 Pet. 3:4; see also Mark 2:8; 8:12; John 11:33; 13:21; Acts 17:16; 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:13).

It should be kept in mind that whereas the former paragraph is true, there are numerous texts where the same “spiritual” intimacy with God, communion with God, and love and praise for God, are attributed to the exercise of the person’s “mind” and “heart” and “soul” and “will”.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9-15 we read this:

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one (1 Cor. 2:9-15).

Here we see pneuma used with reference to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, and the spirit “of the world”. Paul also contrasts the “natural person” (psuchikos anthropos) with the “spiritual person” (ho pneumatikos). The former is a reference to the unregenerate, unsaved, natural man, the person who is devoid of the Holy Spirit. The latter does not refer to a special class of Christians but to all believers, those who possess the Holy Spirit.

One final text is of great importance. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul says this: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Clearly Paul believed that the “spirit” could be “defiled” by sin and disobedience. In light of all that God has done for you in Christ (“these promises”), take whatever steps necessary, says Paul, to “cleanse” the body and the spirit from sinful defilement. Thus, even though we have been born again or regenerated by the Holy Spirit, even though as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17 we are “a new creation,” the “spirit” (together with the body, the soul, the heart, the mind, and the will of a believer) needs to be progressively “cleansed” or purified through repentance, faith in Christ, and daily dependence on the efficacy of the atoning blood of Jesus.


“Mind” in the Old Testament

The Hebrew language has no word for “mind” and thus would use the word “heart” (leb) to denote the seat of all immaterial faculties or functions: thinking, choosing, willing, feeling, as well as all spiritual actions. The most common Greek words for “mind” are nous and dianoia and they frequently appear in the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX). What is of importance, then, is to remember that throughout the OT the “heart” is portrayed as virtually equivalent to or synonymous with the “mind”. One might “think” with/in his “heart”.

“Mind” in the New Testament

In the NT the noun nous occurs 24x (all but three of which are in Paul’s writings). The “mind” is consistently the center of spiritual understanding and awakening. Our “mind” is to be spiritually and morally renewed (Rom. 12:2). Paul exhorts believers to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:23). With the mind we agree with God’s law and delight in obedience to it (Rom. 7:23). Indeed, Paul says, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Clearly the mind is absolutely essential to a vibrant relationship of intimacy with God and obedience to him. Just as clearly the enemy of the Christian isn’t the “mind” but the “flesh”, the fallen and corrupt power of sin that lingers with us until the time of our glorification.

Jesus said in Mark 12:30 – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (kardia) and with all your soul (psuche) and with all your mind (dianoia) and with all your strength.” These many terms are not designed to provide a psychological breakdown of human personality, as if we are ¼ heart and ¼ soul and ¼ mind and ¼ strength. It is our Lord’s way of saying that our love for and devotion to God is to be utterly and entirely comprehensive. The point of the passage is total commitment. He is far from identifying discrete aspects or faculties of personality. Rather we are to encounter God in a relationship of joy and trust and intimacy with our whole being!

John has an interesting focus on the mind in 1 John 5:20. There we read, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding (dianoia), so that we may know (ginoskomen) him who is true; and we are in him who is true.” There is no hope apart from our knowing the purpose of Christ’s coming. It is to enlighten our minds and to give us understanding so that we may know Jesus intimately and personally and spiritually. The mind is the only way into this deep, spiritual, relational, saving encounter with Christ.

Can the “mind” be sinful and perverted and hardened and used to deny God and to incite sin? Yes, in the same way that the heart and soul and spirit and will and emotions can. But the “mind” is central and key to genuine spiritual renewal and transformation into the image of Christ. Apart from the mind we can neither know or enjoy or serve or worship God rightly. All this to say once again: the enemy of the Christian’s relationship with God and godly living isn’t the mind, it’s the flesh!

The centrality of the “mind” to Christian living and one’s relationship to Christ is clearly affirmed in Philippians 4:7. There Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Thus both the “heart” and the “mind” are where the “peace” of God reigns in us. We see this conjunction of heart and mind again in Hebrews 8:10. This is a citation of the promise of the New Covenant: “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Heb. 8:10). The heart and mind, therefore, are the place where God speaks to us and reveals to us his will and ways.


The “heart” in the OT typically refers to the inner individual human life in its totality. Walter Eichrodt (Theology of the Old Testament) sums up by saying that “heart” (Hebrew leb, Greek kardia) is “a comprehensive term for the personality as a whole, its inner life, its character. It is the conscious and deliberate spiritual activity of the self-contained human ego” (2:143).

In the NT the Greek word kardia occurs some 155x. It rarely refers to the physical human organ but is used figuratively for the center of intellectual and spiritual life (often in contrast with one’s external, physical appearance). A typical example is found in 1 Peter 3:4 where the apostle encourages Christian women to let their adorning not be that of clothing and jewelry but rather “the hidden person of the heart” (lit., “the hidden man of the heart”), that is to say, the inner self.

The word “heart” can also be used synonymously with the “conscience” as in Romans 2:15. “The heart is the seat of doubt and hardness as well as of faith and obedience” (NIDNTE, 2:625). “Heart” also seems to be synonymous with the “mind” (see Phil. 4:7; 2 Cor. 3:14-15). “Thus it is the person – the thinking, feeling, willing ego – with particular regard to the individual’s responsibility to God, that the NT denotes by the use of kardia” (ibid.).

The “heart” is often portrayed as hard, foolish, darkened, and unbelieving (see Mark 3:5; Rom. 1:21; 2:5; Eph. 4:18; Heb. 3:12), as well as being the seat of faith (Rom. 10:6-10). Conviction of sin is experienced in the heart (Acts 2:37). The “heart” is opened to understand and enjoy the truth of the gospel (Acts 16:14). It is into the “heart” that God shines the light of his saving grace that brings the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The Holy Spirit indwells our “hearts” and bears witness to the fact that we are God’s children (2 Cor. 1:22; see Gal. 4:6-7). God pours his love into our “hearts” (Rom. 5:5) and there Christ dwells through faith (Eph. 3:17).

The “heart” is the source of obedience to God (Rom. 6:17; 2 Thess. 3:5) and the place where God’s word is kept and treasured (Luke 8:15). It is in and over the “heart” that the peace of Christ rules (Col. 3:15). Grace strengthens the “heart” (Heb. 13:9). The NT speaks of a “pure” heart (Matt. 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:5) as well as the need to “purify/cleanse/sanctify” the heart (Acts 15:9; James 4:8; 1 Peter 3:15).

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